Cautious optimism as Sask. to ease travel restrictions for far north region

Two northern leaders are expressing cautious optimism after the Saskatchewan government announced on Tuesday that certain travel restrictions in the northwest portion of the province would be lifted June 8.

People will be able to travel to and from the northwest area of province as of June 8

Travel restrictions will be lifted in the northwest area of Saskatchewan on June 8, which will allow residents to travel in and out of the area. (Don Somers/CBC)

The Saskatchewan government's decision to ease travel restrictions in the northwest portion of the province on June 8 is being met with cautious optimism from two northern village mayors.

Restrictions on non-essential travel had been put in place at the end of April as the number of COVID-19 cases began rising in the far north region, eventually peaking at 156 cases on May 10.

There were 23 on Tuesday.

Even with the drop, Nick Daigneault, mayor of the village of Beauval, said Tuesday that community members are "continuing to take face masks with us and gloves where necessary."

Beauval is 124 kilometres northeast of Meadow Lake, the nearest city and a place considered a hub for surrounding communities and First Nations.

An outbreak had been declared in the Beauval area on May 1. On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a public service announcement that the outbreak had been declared over.

"Just having that restriction on, it wasn't exactly easy to swallow," Daigneault said.

"But it's one of those things where, on one hand they they're happy that the restrictions are being eased up, the outbreak's declared over — but we also know we have to be cautious moving forward."

Personal protective equipment was donated to the community by several organizations and is now being distributed to community members, Daigneault said.

"We know it's not completely 100 per cent there, but we're now, as a community and as a region, we can almost feel that hope ... that overwhelming sense of relief and happiness."

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre said he was glad to see the change being made, adding that the news came earlier than he expected.

"It's a welcome change," St. Pierre said Tuesday.

People will be able to travel in and out of the northwest region of the province, which includes the northern village of La Loche and the nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation, as of June 8.

La Loche also has the OK from the government to allow businesses under Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the reopen plan to resume operations, as of next Monday.

Along with eased restrictions on travel, the limit on gatherings has been increased to 20 when the gathering is outdoors for the northwest area. Indoor gatherings will remain limited to 10.